Politics 2012: Team Obama regroups

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |  Oct. 7, 2012 at 4:00 AM
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Team Obama says there will be some changes made by the time the second presidential debate at Hofstra University near New York between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney rolls around.

Analysts say good because Obama turned in a less-than-stellar performance last week at the University of Denver.

From the get-go last week Romney was on the attack, aggressive as he laid out his plan to put the U.S. economy on the path to recovery, cut taxes, create jobs and help the middle class, as well as differentiate between his vision for America's future and that of President Obama.

Post-debate analysts said Obama appeared on camera as irked, tense and not fully engaged while Romney came to play and show the American people why he should be president. His eye contact with Romney was near non-existent -- and he looked down a lot while jotting notes when he wasn't speaking. Plus, Romney's jabs at his record left Obama playing defense.

An estimated 67.2 million people watched the first presidential debate, Nielsen reported. Viewership for the Obama-Romney tilt was up 28 percent compared to the first presidential debate in 2008 between then Senator Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"The president gave non-verbal signals that he did not enjoy the event, and that detracted from his performance," political commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Minnesota said. "The president did best when discussing the impact of his policies upon particular individuals and how the policies would help them."

While Romney must build on his solid, winning performance, Obama "needs to find fresh lines of attack upon Romney and also have more factual support for the positions he espouses," Schier said.

Comic and political commentator Bill Ma her posted on his Twitter account: "I can't believe I'm saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter."

Because Obama seemed passive and defensive, he "will need to command the campaign agenda in the coming days to remove that impression from voter's minds," Schier said.

Even though snap-polls indicated Romney won Wednesday's debate, he gave the Obama campaign grist to mill, MS NBC.com said, citing, among other things, Romney's declaration that he wouldn't reduce taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. However, Romney support for extending tax cuts made during the George W. Bush administration, and the non-partisan Tax Policy Center reported Romney's tax plan would give the top 0.1 percent an average tax cut of more than $246,000.

What puzzled some Democrats was that Obama never raised covertly recorded comments in which Romney criticized the "47 percent" of Americans who don't pay taxes as people who won't take responsibility and call themselves victims.

"I don't know," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, told Politico when asked about the omission. "I guess because he's a gentleman."

Despite it not being mentioned in Denver, Obama campaign officials signaled it would bring up Romney's "47 percent" comments, Politico reported.

"We are making the case in a lot of different ways," Obama senior adviser David Plouffe said.

Obama aides told The Hill the president will aim to be aggressive in the second debate at Hofstra by initiating a more forceful attack when he believes Romney is fudging the truth.

"It's like a playoff in sports," Obama senior campaign strategist David Axelrod told reporters Thursday during a conference call.

He said there are strategic judgments "that have to be made and we'll make them."

While conceding Romney was "very good on the attack, that's his forte," Axelrod said the Republican candidate's position on taxes, spending, Medicare and financial sector regulation will ultimately choke his candidacy.

"The long-term result of this is going be that the concerns people had about his positions are going to continue to be the concerns they have about his positions," he said.

Other Democratic strategists echoed the same view.

Veteran party strategist Donna Brazile posted Thursday on her Twitter page: "Last night, Romney was severely conservative w/some of his answers but mildly moderate on others. Obama just couldn't hit the right target."

She later posted: "Romney came to play and pivot. Did he get a few good punches? Yes, but did they harm the president? Hardly. Round one is over: Wonky debate"

A former Obama official told the Hill Obama, more than others, understands what happened Wednesday.

"I don't think his advisers need to tell him anything -- the president is a competitive guy," the unidentified person said. "He knows what happened. He'll know what to do for the next one."

Given that as many as 25 percent of voters indicate the debates could prompt them to switch their preferred candidate, commentator Schier said this year's debates play a bigger role than debates in previous years.

"This is particularly the case because there is widespread dissatisfaction with national conditions and the country's direction," he said. "That discontent creates voter volatility in which debates can matter a lot."

For that reason, he said, "the president will need to perform better in future debates ... to prevent the first debate from becoming the crucial turning point in the entire campaign."

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